Academy manager Darren Edmondson on Tranmere, York and WiganUnited’s unbeaten U18 side travels to face Wigan this weekend severely depleted, with injures ranging from broken bones to torn ligaments leaving them with just seven squad members to train with at various stages this week.
But academy manager Darren Edmondson confirmed that you won’t find anyone stepping away from the challenge as they look to carry their good start to the campaign forward for as long as they possibly can.
“The boys have set themselves some really good standards and that’s very pleasing,” he said. “The injury situation we’re going through will catch up with us at some point, I have no doubt about that. If we do see a run of results that aren’t going our way it will be down to the lack of bodies we have available.
“We lost our latest player - Jack Egan - to a long term injury during the Tranmere game. That was a broken wrist so, as you can see, these aren’t just minor injuries we’re talking about. It’s either broken bones or, in the case of Jaic Miller, it’s a cruciate problem.
“The lads are coping with it really well but, as I say, if we do start to struggle because of it we’ll use it as another part of their learning curve. At the moment we use the good and the bad situations we face as teaching aids, because it’s important the lads know how to cope with setbacks and unusual situations mentally and in their everyday lives.”
“We use that approach for match situations as well,” he continued. “We watch the games back whenever we can and we study the things they do right and wrong. Again, that’s because the lads have to know how to deal with things physically and mentally when they’re under a little bit of pressure.
“I’ll be honest, it’s been tough watching so many of the young boys pick up bad injuries but, as I’ve said before, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here as I’ve settled into the job and the lads are responding brilliantly to everything we tell them.”
Speaking about how the lack of numbers affects day-to-day planning, he said: “Turning up for training with only seven players available is quite new to me. If you’re in a first team environment you can bring loan players in or make signings to make your squad big enough to cope.
“You can’t do that at youth level, so you have to come up with little variations to your sessions to make it as worthwhile and entertaining as possible. The players who are fit need to go away from us having got something from the session, because it can never be just about turning up.
“It’s a challenge for Dave [Wilkes] and me to keep putting these sessions on, because we have to keep it positive and lively but we also have to have an eye on where the lads are both physically and mentally.”
Another challenge for the coaching staff is the putting together of a team to play both home and away games every weekend.
“The group we take into a match day is mostly made up of first years,” Edmondson explained. “Cameron Salkeld and Joe Breen are the exception to that, but it’s good for the under-16s because they came in when they were off school and they worked with us a lot.
“They’ll have enjoyed that and they’ll have learned from it as well. The good thing for us as coaching staff is that it gives us an insight into who might be ready for us at this time next year. You can take positives from every situation and having five or six boys of that age travelling with us every week is fantastic for them, and for us.
“The group is in very good spirits even though four or five are away from the set-up because of the operations they’ve just had. We’ll hopefully start to see some of the second years back with us by the end of November and that will give everyone a huge lift. I hope when they come to work they’ll keep smiling even though one or two are hobbling around on crutches.
“We also have to factor in that the first years have to get used to going to college for a day and a half each week. That’s different in terms of them having to do that work during the morning before getting ready for a training session in the afternoon.”
Looking back at the last home game, he told us: “The Tranmere game always looked like it was going to be a tough one for us. They were a big, physical second year team and they were very direct. Teams from the Liverpool area are always very passionate about their football and they like to win at all costs.
“It was one of the better games as a learning tool for our first years, mostly because they hadn’t come up against that type of approach before. We rode our luck a little bit but it was a good game to win. Sometimes you need things to go your way if you’re going to win matches, and that’s something else we’ve been able to highlight.
“York were another physical side, so that was also a tough test. They were packed with second years again – I don’t want to keep going on about that, but the extra year does make a difference physically. They’ve had that extra 12 months of strength and conditioning work and we can see it in our own second years. They’re bigger and stronger than the new intake but, having said that, if you have a game plan and you work on it during the training sessions it gives you a chance in any game.
“Much of what we do is based on having the right mentality out of possession. We base a lot of what we do on the first team, and how they go about that side of things, and we’ve been lucky enough to have the lads there to watch a few of their games. That’s shown them what it’s like and what they need to do when they don’t have the ball.
“They’ve listened to us, they’ve watched the first team and they’ve taken it into matches. They’re determined to be a side that’s very hard to beat and they’re scraping the results out because of it.”
And this weekend takes them to Wigan for what is always a real test.
“Wigan are a decent side so it’s never going to be easy to play them on their own patch,” he said. “They were in the top three last season so it’s another good challenge. If we get beat you can count on me using injuries as an excuse, so management can’t lose on that front!
“The lads have been talking about it all week and it’s one they’re looking forward to. That’s what you get when you’re winning games, you just want the next one to come along. They’re brimming with confidence and you always get a feeling of camaraderie when you’re travelling to these away games because it’s a shared experience.
“You can feel like it’s going on forever and you’re on a packed bus, with your bag on your knee, and it does pull the group together.
“Wigan is a massive football club and the lads who saw it last year have already passed on what they know about the facilities and surroundings. We’ll give it a real go - with whoever is fit and ready - and we’ll see what we can come back with.”
United welcome first year winger Max Cowburn (Newcastle United) and first year midfielder Sam Adewusi (Blackburn Rovers) as they join us to take up their two-year scholarship.
United v York – Ashton, Olsen, Breen, Watson, Goldthorpe, Hutchinson, Hodgson, Adewusi (McCarron 78), Lloyd, Salkeld, Cowbrun. Subs - Bacon, Wells, Gordon, Dixon.
Goals – Breen (pen), Lloyd